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Video games and gun violence: A year after Sandy Hook
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Video games and gun violence: A year after Sandy Hook

February 10, 2014 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 7 Next

Where's the research?

Christopher Ferguson is a professor at Stetson University, and well known in the field of examining the psychology of violent media's effects on real-life violent behavior. Ferguson not only attended the meeting with Biden at the start of 2013, but he's also been heavily involved in gathering research about how violent video games affect us.

"In terms of research that the government itself has funded -- there was all this talk about the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) funding something -- nothing really came of all that," he tells me.

Ferguson isn't a political insider, but he's very much a man in the know on this topic -- and while he notes that Congress-led research could potentially still be on the way in the future, no funding has been doled out for research into violent video games. If that research is ever coming, it's a very long way off.

"The CDC did have a meeting in April [2013]," he continues, "and it was on everything, with the exception of mental illness, interestingly enough -- they forbade anybody from talking about mental illness. Other than that, everything was essentially on the table, whether it was gun control, or technology for fingerprints on guns so that the gun can tell who is holding it."

During that meeting, two points were obvious: one, that the CDC was ranking gun control far higher than video games in terms of importance; and two, that politics were playing a large part in what was being said to the public, compared to what was actually happening behind closed doors.

Notes Ferguson, "At one point in the meeting, someone made a comment about gun violence, saying 'We have to make sure that any research that is done is shielded from politics.' And everyone burst out laughing, because of this absolutely ludicrous idea."

"As far as I know, no-one gave the CDC any money in the end," Ferguson continues. "They might shift around some of their own money, but as you might have followed, that whole gun violence debate kind of fell apart anyway. There ended up being not much momentum on much of anything, quite frankly, as an end result."

The push for violent video game research in particular has nearly completely dropped off, he tells me, apart from with those campaigners like Senator Rockefeller who are heavily invested in it.

"There ended up being not much momentum on much of anything, quite frankly."

Dr. Cheryl Olson is another key figure when it comes to research in the field of violent video games, and also is the author of Grand Theft Childhood: The Surprising Truth About Violent Video Games and What Parents Can Do. She too attended the Biden meeting, and tells me of the proposed $10 million research, "I haven't heard anything either."

"I've tried to keep my ear to the ground about opportunities that there might be, because I have collaborators who I work with at MIT, or other different places," she adds, "and I'm not hearing any offers to do research."

"It's kind of disappointing," Olson says, although like Ferguson, she's keen to stress that "these things do take time, especially since there were these U.S. government fights about how new funding must be offset with cuts somewhere else. So it's been a difficult environment to try to get some of that going. But I think it has been a little bit disappointing."

One person who was an advocate for the meeting with Biden was the IGDA's Anti-Censorship and Social Issues Committee Chairman Daniel Greenberg who, in an open letter to Biden, said that these talks would hopefully allow the video game industry to work alongside the White House to research any potential links between violent video games and real-life violence. 

He tells me today that he's under the impression that funding is underway, although he isn't entirely sure. "It's hard to follow it," he says. "In fact, I was thinking of using the freedom of information act just to see where it is, but I thought I would just let sleeping dogs lie for a while."

"I believe at the time they did allocate some money, or allocate some resources within the CDC to do this," he continues. "They just wanted to make sure that it was completely clean, and that it was clean from any kind of interference. Unless Chris or Cheryl know something I don't know, then I believe they are proceeding ahead. Research takes time."

Greenberg notes that this sort of research is going to take a while, because a lot of the similar research that has come before it has missed the mark.

"There are some pretty big impediments to designing research, not the least of which is that the research that has been designed to date has used metrics and measurements for aggression that have never been validated in the real world," he says.

Meanwhile, Dr. Patrick Markey at the Department of Psychology, Villanova University, also notes that research can be a slow process.

"Not only do you have to collect the data," he says, "you have to write up the data and you also have to go through the review process. Average turnaround time for a journal article is a few months. Even after the article is accepted it usually takes at least six months to go to press. Therefore, any research that started a year ago would probably start coming out this summer."

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 7 Next

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